As soon as you pick up The Coming of the Whirlpool, the first book of four from Andrew McGahan’s series Ship Kings, you will know whether it is for you or not. Although this book is worthy of its spot on the CBCA Book of the Year shortlist, it is not an outright winner.
The book follows the journey of 11-year-old Dow Amber, a newly inducted man of the forest, who comes from a proud family of timber cutters. Unlike his kin, however, Dow longs for the ocean and the freedom of its wide waters. So he begins his quest to leave the small town he has always known for a life on the open seas.
He quickly picks up the trade from a reserved veteran, who saves him from trouble as many times as he endangers the teenager. But sooner or later Dow must learn his fate — that the wellbeing of the entire New Island rests on his shoulders.
One of the main features of the book is a sophisticated vocabulary. McGahan’s details are intricate, his descriptions plentiful yet marvelous. Similarly, ideas are explained thoroughly, exploring themes that are very relevant to the landlubber teens of today.
McGahan’s debut novel for a young adult audience, The Coming of the Whirlpool has already received many awards. Shortlisted for the 2012 Indie Awards (Children’s category) and finalist in the 2011 Aurealis Awards for Children’s Fiction, this book has already pleased many readers.
The main problem with this first installment is that it read as a lengthy introduction to the Ship Kings series. Indeed, it is often too rich in detail. Only in the last hundred or so pages did serious complications start to arise, and only then did I feel compelled to follow the heroic Dow’s journey.
Whether the rest of the series proves to be a thrilling fantasy adventure or not, I believe other books are more worthy of the CBCA bronze sticker. But then again, I’m not the judge.
The Coming Of The Whirlpool is available now through Allen & Unwin. RRP $22.99